JTF (just the facts): A total of 13 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are archival pigment prints, made between 2009 and 2014. Each image is available in a large (in editions of 3) and small size (in editions of 6), in sizes of 20×29, 32×39/32×47, and 40×50 (or reverse). (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: When the subject of a photograph is even peripherally aware of the actions of the photographer, the resulting portrait nearly always has an embedded element of subtle aspiration. Even in casual family snapshots, we often try to put on our best selves, acting out the all-too-familiar stand up straight, pull in your stomach, put on a happy smile routine. In the studio, surrounded by carefully chosen props, fashions, or staged settings, the aspirational creation of identity is more deliberate and overt – every detail fills out the richness of how we want to be seen and remembered.
With this tendency in mind, Sasha Rudensky’s recent photographs from Russia and Ukraine offer an unusual twist on aspirational portraiture. Her pictures are filled with nuanced variations on wishing, role playing, and costumed put-ons, but the resulting dreams feel somehow hollow, a dampening mood of quiet melancholy lingering in the faces and gestures of these people. It’s as if the characters they have chosen for themselves or the sparkling settings they inhabit haven’t provided the fulfillment they had hoped for, leaving them going through the motions, awkwardly trapped in their own fantasies.
Many of Rudensky’s portraits turn on a moment of introspection, where the eyes look way and thoughts wander elsewhere, as if questioning their own presence in the pictures. A young uniformed Navy cadet with arm tattoos looks down into the depths of his own thoughts, his elbows bent up as protection. A dancer in a sparkly blouse and high heels lethargically lifts her leg, a sexy move turned dull by her blank lack of emotion. And solitary man turns away from a brightly lit karaoke stage, his hunched shoulders the epitome of empty loneliness.
Other portraits investigate clothing as a source of identity, but the costumes don’t always provide the positive energy they’re supposed to. A dapper custom made purple suit seems to emerge from glowing whiteness, a flimsy cape of confidence being pulled around its new owner. A pristine white acolyte’s robe covers a boy playing ping pong, his vacant stare a sign of his stiff discomfort. And a shirtless man doing splits across two chairs uses his muscled body as his signifier, but the strain on his face and the oddball position make his intense efforts seem quietly ridiculous.
Two of the most memorable images in the show are steeped in extended moments of dejection. A teenage boy stands at the foot of a broken glass fountain (its jagged shards their own study in destroyed beauty), his drooping bouquet of flowers matching his mute expression of waiting. And a boy in a striped hoodie wanders near a fancy silver Range Rover, the ground littered with a scrounging dog, extra tires, random equipment, and dozens of tiny pinecones, the seductive glamour of the expensive car entirely undermined.
With repeated consistency, Rudensky’s photographs have been meticulously composed, her use of saturated color and linear angles giving her pictures a feel of mature control. Thick blue gives way to egg-yolk yellow, the insistent lines of the ping pong table, the stuccoed walls, the receding stairs, and the glowing nightclub stage and massage room managing the action inside each frame. Even when Rudensky turns to architecture, her mood remains unsettled – a mini-mart at twilight, the bright screen of a Sputnik documentary, and dappled shadows across a new development mural all feel weighed down by a mix of unrealistic optimism and heavy reality.
This body of work would make a fine self contained photobook – it’s already been tightly edited and sequenced to build rhythms and visual echoes. Rudensky’s post-Soviet word feels like an in-between place where everyday dreams have been misplaced. The facades and finishes are seemingly shiny and new, but the real satisfactions remain dispiritingly elusive.
Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $3000, $5000, and $7000 each, based on size. Rudensky’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.